An Introvert at a Funeral
Common funeral practices are sometimes a cruel joke played on introverts. Most of us accept that we live in an extravert's world. While the value of the introvert is gaining attention of late, society still holds the person with many friends and a gregarious personality as the model to mirror.
Funerals are no different from any other social construct. Long lines of mourners attend the successful wake. Giving eulogies for the deceased in a church with empty pews is just sad. Many traditions need a second graveside service followed by an open house at the home of the bereaved. People are everywhere. A friend recently said, "The only time my house is filled with people is when somebody in my family dies."
We all want and, in some ways, need people around during a time of death. It's comforting to know that others care. However, consider introverts. They are no different in that they need people around and they want people to show they care. They just don't need them around as much as the extravert does.
It's all about energy. Grief, sadness and depression are all emotional states that drain a person's energy. Once we get past the anger of losing someone, these feelings follow closely behind. During times of grief, we don't seek pleasure and we don't enjoy life. Our energy for such matters usually evaporates during mourning. The energy depletion is often intense and we sometimes hear phrases like, "I don't know how I'm going to go on with my life."
Funerals are to help the living come to grips with the death of a loved one. Healthy mourning allows people to pass through their exhausting sadness, to accept their loss and then to arrive at a "new normal". Energy gained from interacting with others helps the extravert during these times while social intercourse usually only exhausts the introvert's energy. So, when introverts lose someone, they not only have to deal with grief and sadness depleting their energy. They usually also have to run the gauntlet of social expectations which drains them rather than feeds them. It can become a double curse of energy loss.
Introverts often report others misunderstand them when they seek the restorative solitude that they need during these times. Some see the mourning introvert as rude and disrespectful for not being ever-present. Or others assess them to be worse off than they are. One person who identifies herself as introverted said her family became alarmed when she went off by herself for several hours during a time of family mourning and questioned her about suicidal thoughts. She had no such thoughts. She just needed some time alone.
Effective grief counseling is mostly about giving people permission to deal with death in the way that suits them best. For introverts, this does mean connecting with the people in their lives who care about them and the deceased loved one. However, it also means finding time alone to explore their loss and to gain energy, as they typically do, on their own. Most introverts will not want to isolate altogether.
It's less about getting away from others and more about being alone, however subtle that difference may be. People often describe a feeling of emptiness and a deep loneliness when the last mourner has left. However, the typical introvert will most likely feel gratitude for the mourners having come, but they will also feel relief that they are now gone.
So, whether you're an extravert or an introvert, when you face a loss, give yourself permission to do whatever it takes to get through the experience in your own way. And be generous enough to allow others to grieve in their fashion even if it doesn't feel quite right to you.
Have you had similar situations where others have not understood your introverted or extraverted behavior? Is it sometimes difficult to meet others' expectations because of a personality trait? Join us in the conversation. We'd love to hear from you.